The New England Patriots have been perennial contenders since Bill Belichick became head coach, but it has surprisingly been nine seasons since they last won the Super Bowl. They will hope that 2014 will end this streak.
New England made a few key additions in free agency, starting with three-time All-Pro corneback Darrelle Revis on a one-year deal. The team also added Brandon Browner, wide receiver Brandon LaFell and retained the services of Julian Edelman.
Most importantly, Tom Brady will once again line up under center as the leader on offense. The veteran quarterback has never had a losing season as a starter and that is unlikely to change anytime soon.
However, the division is certain to get tougher as the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills each look to improve behind young quarterbacks. These games and more will create a difficult run to the playoffs for the Patriots.
Here is a look at what New England has to look forward to with the 2014 schedule, courtesy of NFL.com.
|1||Sept. 7||at Dolphins||1 p.m.||CBS|
|2||Sept. 24||at Vikings||1 p.m.||CBS|
|3||Sept. 21||vs. Raiders||1 p.m.||CBS|
|4||Sept. 29||at Chiefs||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|5||Oct. 5||vs. Bengals||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|6||Oct. 12||at Bills||1 p.m.||CBS|
|7||Oct. 16||vs. Jets||8:25 p.m.||CBS, NFLN|
|8||Oct. 26||vs. Bears||1 p.m.||Fox|
|9||Nov. 2||vs. Broncos||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|11||Nov. 16||at Colts||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|12||Nov. 23||vs. Lions||1 p.m.||Fox|
|13||Nov. 30||at Packers||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|14||Dec. 7||at Chargers||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|15||Dec. 14||vs. Dolphins||1 p.m.||CBS|
|16||Dec. 21||at Jets||1 p.m.||CBS|
|17||Dec. 28||vs. Bills||1 p.m.||CBS|
After another first-place finish, the Patriots are stuck with a relatively difficult 2014 schedule. According to ESPN, it ranks 10th in the league with a .516 opponent win percentage.
New England will compete against every single AFC playoff team from a year ago thanks to the division matchup against the AFC West. Add in the Green Bay Packers from the NFC North, and the Patriots are in for a challenge.
To make matters even worse, the road schedule is set to be grueling. Four out of the five non-divisional opponents were in the playoffs last year with the Minnesota Vikings clearly being much better at home (5-3 at home, 0-7-1 away).
The only redeeming factor is that both the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals will have to go to Foxboro this season, which is important after the two went 15-1 at home in 2013.
Despite all this, the Patriots remain one of the top teams in the AFC and true contenders to win the Super Bowl. Mike Klis of The Denver Post provides a look at the odds for the upcoming season:
Broncos tied with Patriots with third-best Super Bowl odds for 2014 season. Super Bowl odds for all 32 teams: http://t.co/myAIjdFRWZ— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) February 17, 2014
If New England is truly this good, it should not matter how difficult the schedule is during the regular season. In fact, the difficult stretch should only better prepare them better for the playoffs, where they are sure to make their sixth straight appearance.
The rivalry between the New England Patriots and New York Jets has been great for many years, and things should be just as exciting in 2014.
As Jets head coach Rex Ryan explained, "The division goes through New England, as always, and I think that will always be the case as long as Tom Brady is there," via Ken Belson of The New York Times.
With the offseason addition of Revis, this provides yet another wrinkle in the back-and-forth battle. When asked whether signing with the Patriots was motivated by getting back at the Jets, the cornerback denied it. According to Seth Walder of the New York Daily News, Revis said, "No, that was never a factor. My thing is all about winning. I want to win. What better organization than the Patriots to be a part of? You look at their track record."
As much as the Patriots have been consistent winners overall, they have lost in three of the last five road games against the Jets. The squad cannot afford a loss to an inferior team like this if it wants to secure a bye and/or home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Otherwise, matchups with Denver and Cincinnati promise to have huge implications on the AFC playoff seedings. If the Pats can secure wins against both of those contenders, they will have a leg up on a potential first-round bye.
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